A Discussion on the Successes and Failures of Reconstruction

Reconstruction can simply be construed as one of the most tumultuous periods in United States history, perhaps even more so than the devastating internal conflict that preceded it. However, the implications of Reconstruction were much more multifaceted and complex; for Reconstruction to be wholly characterized as a success or failure would be to undermine its many intricacies. Where Reconstruction succeeded in reunifying the Southern secessionist states and eradicating slavery in the United States, it failed in addressing glaring social and economic issues pertaining to African Americans. With the Compromise of 1877 marking the end of Reconstruction, the twelve-year rebuild served as political and economic victories for the Southern Democrats known as Redeemers, whose tenets of white supremacy and segregatory laws became pervasive. Contrarily. Reconstruction was unpredictably disastrous for Republicans and especially for freedmen in what would become a century-long struggle for equality.

Shortly after Reconstruction began, slaves’ aspirations of owning land and property were quickly met with resistance. The passage of the Reconstruction amendments was undoubtedly an avenue towards rectification of the injustices suffered by former slaves. However, Reconstruction ultimately accomplished little in creating equal opportunities for the abject freedmen, many of whom were poverty-stricken and unemployed despite severing the bonds of servitude. The Black Codes, passed with little opposition from Congress, along with the institution of sharecropping essentially returned ex-slaves to quasi-slavery in which their trivial wages and difficult labor delegitimized any opportunity for economic and social advancement. Furthermore, as discriminatory organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan came into fruition, the perversion of white supremacy ran rampant. An ideology eventually accepted by the weary Northerners, who sooner embraced reconciliation and reunification than sustained advocacy for what they believed to be an ambiguous and divisive cause. Finally, The Compromise of 1877, which involved the withdrawing of Northern military presence and its sphere of influence in the South, was perhaps the single most egregious transgression. An emphatic triumph for the southern Democratic Redeemers, the compromise marked the end of a hectic rebuild and the decisive nail in the coffin for the lamentable freedmen.

Ironically, Andrew Johnson’s ascension to the presidency was arguably a major reason for the Southerners’ success in Reconstruction. Lincoln’s congenial demeanor towards former slaves coupled with the grudging admiration Southerners had for him would likely have resolved Reconstruction sooner. Johnson’s Unionism, pro-slavery sentiment, Democratic allegiance, and general ineptitude contrasted sharply with Congress’s ideals for reunification. The aforementioned conditionally guaranteed election of Rutherford B. Hayes provided much of the impetus for the Redeemers to regain control of Republican governments in the South and to systematically remove African Americans from office, further giving credence to the dissemination of anti-black sentiment throughout reunified America.

The end of an exhaustive Reconstruction would culminate in success for the bigoted Redeemers and disheartening setback for the freed blacks. The abolition of slavery only saw economic conditions for blacks improve by the slightest of margins, as the new economic

systems introduced severely restricted their newfound freedom, and segregatory laws impeded any opportunity for equality.

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